On Wednesday afternoon, at the Sacramento-area bookstore where I work, I got into an intense exchange about abortion with a regular customer I'll call John, just as I was ringing up a boatload of history books for him.
John's a regular, about 70 y.o., considers himself a leisure historian. I grant you, he is knowledgeable about WWI and II, Vietnam, Grenada & the Gulf War. He opposes the Iraq war, and thinks George Bush is one bad dude. He's always come aross a very decent guy and possibly a Dem, so his ruminations on abortion took me by surprise. His words are loathsome, but read on: he isn't quite the caricature of an addlebrained knuckle-dragger that he seems to be (not to say his deviations from type redeem him that much).
It didn't begin this way exactly, but we got to our controversial points fast, so in the interest of brevity in the retelling of my tale, herewith I will do likewise.
It sounds as if you want to see abortion made illegal again and ASAP, is that right?" I asked.
His (predictable) answer, with an unlikely twist in the tale, after the flip.
This diary, then, is a faithful paraphrase of one (formerly southern) man's unabashed, uncensored, vivid thoughts about women and women's sexuality; you don't often get to hear the full throttle misogyny and fear that operates just beneath the surface of many men's fulminations against abortion. Here are his responses to my first question.
- If women don't want to be mothers, they shouldn't have sex. Fifty years ago, women had the sense to say NO. They knew the consequences. Legalized abortion removed the consequences, creating a generation of sluts. A fellow today can't tell who's a nice girl and who's not, because women are no longer accountable to their families, and no one thinks about God anymore, and the walking-around child that used to warn a guy of a woman's unsavory past are all murdered before they get a chance to walk anywhere.
- Pregnancy out of wedlock is the mark of the slut. Men deserve to know what sort of woman they're dealing with. Abortion allows women to get off scott free, to hide the truth of their natures. Make abortion illegal again and women will learn to say NO again, like they did in the 50s.
- Back alley abortions didn't happen. Only a handful of women resorted to that kind of thing. Without recourse to legal abortion, women knew if they messed around that that's where they'd probably end up--in a back alley somewhere, spreading their legs again, this time for somebody faking to be doctor, using unsanitary implements. Fear of the fake doctor had a function in society; it deterred women from having sex. We removed a deterrent that worked. I don't understand why we did that.
- If a woman is so coarse, frivolous and rude that she has sex outside of marriage, gets herself pregnant, tries to cover up her behavior and worst of all conspires to kill the child she made, then the sterilization or death of her is no loss to society. But butchered abortions didn't happen. People will try to say it happened right and left but the truth is there weren't that many unmarried pregnant women running around. Because they knew better to get like that! All the problems started after abortion was legalized.
- Men need sex, women don't. The only kind of woman who can't hold the line with a man is the kind of woman who likes sex the way a man likes sex (and that's not right, was the implication). By nature men will always try to get sex, but in their hearts they don't want a woman to give it (especially if he fancies her). The instant she gives into him, she erases all her charms. He might seem to like it, and yes he will come back for more of it, but in his heart he doesn't care for her anymore. That's a true fact, no mater what a man says contrariwise. There's no love that can redeem a slut. Faithful women don't have strong passions.
- She plays it as if she likes you best, but sooner or later you find out she's been going to bed with your friends. Humiliating. Hurts, too. Hurts your feelings. You've been played a fool, going around with a run-around, a whore. What does it say about you? What does it say about your own quality as a person?
Me: But men indulge in premarital sex all the time without permanent damage to their reputation. Why should a woman be punished for doing the same as a man? What's with the double standard?
- What? (Audible incredulity.) It's a different thing when you're taking about a fellow. Have you ever heard of a male slut? The first thing a man needs when he starts out in the world is a faithful wife. A slut will leave you high and dry with babies to raise by yourself, and that's a humiliation you can't keep private. Everybody sees you married wrong. That's why you don't marry those types.
As you might imagine it was hard to listen to all this and keep my peace, but I did because at the start of our conversation, just after he informed me he was pro-life on religious grounds (and I informed him I'm pro-choice), he told me an astonishing, humanizing, confounding story that made me want to hear him out, draw him out. Sometime in the early 80s, his youngest daughter got pregnant and he helped her obtain an abortion. He stands by his decision to this day.
Bookstore Conversations: John Part II: A Teaser
She was a freshman in college, gifted in math as well as the arts, and the only child of five (two daughters, three sons) to go to university. A precocious kid before school began, it was no surprise to her father that intelligence tests administered in the third grade revealed a superior IQ. So this anti-choice, seemingly staunchly misogynistic man, buttons popping with pride, vowed that he would have the money in the bank to pay for his smart daughter's college tuition when the time came, and by golly, he followed through. He took a night job, helped her make smart academic choices all through middle and high school, and told me of his endless shushing of her brothers for making "rumpus" and disrupting her studies (and, somewhat less gallantly, of taking his belt to them on one occasion, for making fun of her mousy studiousness).
Having gone on at an amazingly windy length already, especially for a first diary, I've decided to break here. Please look for Part II, up soon, and thanks for reading.
 The title of this diary was lifted whole and breathing from a line in Lorraine's Hell is for Teenage Girls. Homage.